March 8, 2023


A February 2023 virtual roundtable of corporate support professionals selling sponsorship on their classical format revealed some encouraging trends. Here’s what we learned that may provide some anecdotal benchmarking. That’s not to say there aren’t still considerable challenges or disruption; but a little inspiration is music to our ears, right?

Overall, Business Is Almost at Pre-Pandemic Levels

Business is returning – especially with cultural organizations – to almost pre-COVID spending levels. That said, cultural organizations buying classical sponsorship are waiting longer to sign the contract than they have in the past.

Demand for Digital Inventory Is Growing

Like their AAA and news brethren, classical stations are seeing a demand for their digital inventory. Stations that had not been selling their stream prior to the pandemic are doing so successfully now, generating upwards of $35 CPMs at that. Email newsletters are also popular with classical sponsors, and stations are working to accommodate multiple sponsors at a time, working to establish best practices for both Share-of-Voice (SOV) and CPM-based pricing.

Traditional (and Other) Business Categories Continue to Come Back

As mentioned previously, cultural organizations and other event-driven sponsors are driving revenue for classical stations, although, notably, not all of these organizations or events are music-oriented. Several stations are also doing well in healthcare, and with assisted/retirement living facilities in particular. Retail is also strong for some, including book stores and those businesses selling high-end items. One station also mentioned success with nonprofit clients wanting to recruit board members and volunteers, and messaging to that effect with their on-ar spots.

Local Hosts and Programming Help Grow Audience

While most agree that classical audience numbers have declined overall over the last five years, those stations employing the following tactics have seen some nice bumps in audience at different times of the year or the day respectively:

  • Special/Seasonal Programming: Specifically for one station, a holiday music stream helped grow their classical audience over the holiday season, reaching new, non-regular listeners who listen longer. This made for a consistent, annual, lucrative digital sponsorship offering. 

  • Local Programming and Hosts: Stations with local hosts are also seeing increased audience engagement. Listeners enjoy local voices on-air and like interacting with local hosts in the community. The local piece is really unique to public radio and not something sponsors can get elsewhere, especially when you think about some of our biggest competitors like Pandora or Spotify.

Media Partnerships Are a Valuable Way to Build Awareness (and Some Revenue)

Many classical stations serve as media partners for various community events hosted by other cultural organizations. While this relationship tends to be a trade situation for the most part, several stations require a minimum spend by the cultural organization and are getting creative by using station on-air promo inventory (vs. on-air sponsorship inventory) to message about the event. Because the station is an event partner, this allows for greater flexibility in message length and copy as it is not technically considered underwriting regulated by the FCC.

Station Anniversaries Offer a Good Reason to Engage Sponsors and the Community

Several salespeople are building awareness for their classical station around important station anniversaries via a mix of media partnerships at key community events and special station-hosted events and activities. They are also using the occasion of the anniversary to reach out to existing sponsors for a message of support, which they are repurposing as testimonials for prospective sales moving forward.

What About You?

Does this resonate with what you are experiencing in your own classical sales efforts? Do you have a success story other stations might benefit from hearing more about? If so, drop me a line. Where else are you seeing success?